People don’t have to know me for very long before they discover that I am a huge Disney enthusiast. From my pin boards on Pinterest, desktop backgrounds on my monitor at work, pictures of my kids in front of Cinderella Castle on my desk, to hearing me talk about our last (or next trip to WDW) and everything in between, it’s pretty obvious. Because of my widely know love for all things Disney, I get asked a certain question quite often.
“Hey – we’re thinking about going to Disney. Where do we start?”
Here’s my list 9 tips I give my friends and family when they are planning their first family vacation to Walt Disney World.
1. Visit the official Walt Disney World website. There’s a wealth of neatly organized information. You can learn all about the attractions, resorts, restaurants, and other special experiences in one place – if you have unlimited time!
2. Contact a travel agent (here at the Affordable Mouse, of course!) for lots of help and expertise in planning your first trip. It doesn’t cost a thing, you’re supporting a small business, and the wealth of first hand information is invaluable. Travel agents specializing in Disney vacations can be as involved as you’d like or hands-off when it comes to making reservations.
3. Plan ahead! Try to make your reservations more than 6 months in advance. This allows you time to do your research to narrow down which dining experiences (if any) you’d like to enjoy. You (or your travel agent) can then make reservations as early as 180 days prior to your check-in date to ensure availability. Hot locations fill up fast and even though it sounds crazy to make dinner reservations half a year early, it’s very helpful.
4. Pay along the way. You can book your vacation with just $200 down and then make payments up until 45 days before your check-in. Even a more expensive trip is more manageable this way when reservations are made further in advance.
5. Do your research. A first trip to Walt Disney World is exciting but the planning can be overwhelming. Before making your FastPass+ selections, familiarize yourself with the park maps. Make logical decisions based on timing and proximity between attractions. It makes sense to travel around the parks in a circular pattern rather than zig-zagging back and forth; you certainly don’t want to waste a lot of time walking back and forth when you may have little ones who are wearing down.
6. Determine your budget. Deciding how much you are willing to spend on lodging and food may narrow down your choices. Maybe you are not planning to spend much time at the resort and don’t care about extra amenities. The value resorts are fantastic and budget friendly, so just look at that category. Perhaps you know you want to use a dining plan and eat 2 quickservice and 1 table service meal each day – the official Disney website and your travel agent can help you choose the right dining plan or budget your funds for paying out of pocket.
7. Go during the off-season if you can. You’ll save a bundle with dining or room discounts and enjoy smaller crowds, milder weather, and shorter wait times. If you plan to take more than one future trip, consider going before your child(ren) turns 3 – you don’t have to pay for a 2 year old to enter the park and his or her reaction to all the magic is absolutely priceless.
8. Plan some down time. It’s important in order to really enjoy your experience to relax and take in all that the trip has to offer – whether that’s strolling through Disney Springs on a rest day or returning to the resort during the hottest part of the day to lounge in the pool or take a nap. You’ll feel much more refreshed and I bet your kids will too.
9. Relax & enjoy! Even though it sounds like a lot (and it is), don’t forget that Walt Disney created the parks for one purpose – for families to spend time together having fun. Don’t get too bent out of shape if things don’t go just as you planned. If you happen to miss out on something, remember that Disney World isn’t going anywhere and you can start planning your next trip anytime!
Candice was raised in east Tennessee. While in college, her best friend dragged her to a Walt Disney World College Program recruiting session at the University of Tennessee and the rest is Disney history. In the Fall of 1999, Candice became a quick service food hostess for Sunset Ranch Market and Fantasmic at Disney-MGM Studios – or what is now known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While soaking up her time as a cast member, she met Ryan, a neighbor and a fellow college programmer who worked as a custodial host at Epcot. Four years later, Candice moved to the Midwest and married that boy from across the hall. They now live in Greenwood, Indiana with their two little boys. The Disney-loving foursome took their first family trip to The Happiest Place on Earth in 2013 and Candice is eagerly planning their return. Candice also works full-time at a community mental health center and enjoys taking photographs and blogging at Mommy in the Midwest.